Transcript of an Extract


Church Bands

Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries vol. IX, (January 1916 to January 1917), pp. 124-5.


R. Pearse Chope

Prepared by Michael Steer

The majority of Christian denominations use instruments such as an organ, piano, electronic keyboard, guitar, or other accompaniment, and occasionally by a band or orchestra, to accompany the singing. However, some churches have historically not used instruments, citing their absence from the New Testament. During the last century or so several of these groups have revised this stance. Many of the old Devon churches had bands, with the instruments played by parishioners. This Note provides information about the Church Band at Harpford. The extract, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

Note 106. Church Bands. - As these have become extinct within the memory of several persons now living, it is thought that an account of some of them will not only be generally interesting but will also induce readers to add their reminiscences of other instances and give further particulars both as to localities and as to instruments. The number of instruments was commonly three, viz.: violin, clarinet, and bass viol - which, locally, means the 'cello, not the double bass. Sometimes a flute, or, maybe, a bassoon would be found in place of, or in addition to, the violin; the clarinet and bass viol were nearly always present.

In two interesting articles {Musical News, July ig, 1913, pp. 56, 58 ; Antiquary, 1914, vol. 1., pp. 267-9), Mr. Gordon Anderson has given a description of the bands at Newton Poppleford and Harpford. . .

At Harpford the church music, both vocal and instrumental, seems to have been supplied by a family named Carter. A member of the family, named Sydenham Carter, aged 76, was still living at Otterton, where he owned a delightful farm. He was "one of sixteen, all musicers" (!). In the church band he played a violin which he made himself, and on which his daughter then performed; his father played the bass viol. His brother Joel also played the violin, and his uncle the clarinet. The rest of the family formed the choir, "and they sang fine, not like they do it nowadays." At this church also there was a gallery for the choir and band, and at Christmas they went round as the " Waits," and apparently had a "rare old time." They often "didn't get home till morning," but visited the farmhouses of the neighbourhood, where they were received with open arms and immediately put on the "free list."

Mr. Anderson writes, that in addition to these two bands, he has since ascertained some details of one at Denbury. Here the church still retains the old west gallery, in which the "singers and minstrels" used to sit. The music was in the hands of a family named Rowe. "Old Rowe " played the bass viol, while his three sons performed on a flute and two fiddles. The old man was then living at East Ogwell, and Mr. Anderson believed he had still got his bass viol.

At Hartland, the west gallery was removed when the church was "restored" in 1848. I have been unable to get very definite particulars of the band, but William Cann, the parish clerk, generally played the bass viol, though he sometimes took the clarinet ; Mr, James Rowe, a substantial yeoman, afterwards churchwarden, played the violin ; Sam Walter also played the violin; William Short the flute; and there were others. Old "Painter" Heard "learned" them to play the different instruments ; he was churchwarden in 1826, and his name appears, together with those of Mr. Rowe's father and the writer's grandfather and great-grandfather, on one of the church bells, which were re-cast at that date and increased in number from five to six: -

The names of Dennis, Heard, Chope, and Rowe,
With us can never die:
They saved our lives; not only so,
But bade us multiply.

The only other place of which I have got any information is Torpoint, where, I am told, the band was in existence until after 1864. The instruments were violins, bass viol, and flute. George Davey played the violin, Coffey and Jackson the bass viol, and James Wavish, junior, the flute. The band was in this case placed on the floor of the church, near the pulpit.

                                R. Pearse Chope.